Separation anxiety – is your dog quiet or comfortable?

November 14, 2023

Seems an odd question right? Surely if a dog is quiet when home alone, they’re comfortable? Sadly it is not that simple.

Every dog will give different behavioural signs that they are anxious or uncomfortable. The most common behaviours that we tend to associate with dogs who have separation anxiety are vocalising (barking, whining, howling), toileting in the house when alone, and engaging in destructive behaviours when home alone. But those are by no means the only behaviours that we should be looking for, and each and every dog will communicate their anxiety using very different and varied outward signs, some which are more subtle than others. However, it doesnt mean that because a dog does NOT vocalise that they are experiencing any less anxiety than a dog who does, it is just that they have a different language that they use.

Quiet does not mean comfortable

A client today said something to me which I thought was a great way of explaining it. He had done some work on his dog’s separation anxiety before coming to me, and to his credit he had built up to being able to leave his dog home alone for 30 minutes, albeit the dog was usually standing or moving around the hallway, never truly settled. However, this did not last and fairly soon after, the dog regressed. My client said to me today, after his dog remained chilling asleep in the living room for a 17 minute absence, that he now realises that previously his dog was quiet, but not comfortable, and at the time he thought that because the dog was quiet, he must have been OK.

Dog standing at door anxious as person leaves

Understanding body language is key

In order to successfully navigate through a separation anxiety protocol, it is vital that you understand how to read YOUR dog’s body language, both during absences and when they are at home with you, so you are able to recognise the differences. What do they do when they start to get uncomfortable? Do they lick their lips, pace around, yawn? What do they do when you leave – do they quickly go back and resettle, or do they spend the entire time standing looking at the door? Do you know what the signs of stress are in a dog and do you see any of those in your dog?

Working through a separation anxiety programme is about recognising those subtle signs that your dog is uncomfortable, and seeing signs that show anxiety and stress without relying on only responding and coming in when you hear them bark or whine. In most cases, once a dog has got to the stage where they bark or whine, they are already over threshold.  Also, remember that not all dogs even use vocalising as an outward sign to communicate their anxiety. I have had canine clients who use displacement behaviours when they get anxious (sniffing, scratching, pacing), which are all ways of them trying to make themselves feel better, or will stand/sit and move around, and generally be more fidgety when they are anxious. Just because they dont appear as ‘dramatic’, it absolutely does not mean they are not equally anxious….and if we do not recognise and respond appropriately to these signs, any success you make in your protocol will be short lived because you are working so so close to the maximum that they can cope with at that time.

And this is why a camera is SO important – the most important piece of equipment in a separation anxiety protocol. You NEED to have eyes on your dog during absences so you know what they do, and can ensure the absences are set at the correct and most suitable level for your dog, at that time.

So when working on teaching your dog that absences are safe ask yourself if your dog is quiet, or comfortable…..and if you do not feel they are truly comfortable, that’s OK, you will just need to re-evaluate your sessions and work at a potentially lower level so as to build up your dog’s confidence, and therefore enable them to become more comfortable.

If you would like to discuss how I can help with working through your dog’s separation anxiety, please complete the form on the page below and I will be in touch to arrange a free initial phone call:

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By Angela Doyle

I am a highly experienced and qualified reward based dog trainer and behaviour consultant based in Surrey, UK. I am a fully qualified CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer) and specialise in helping dogs overcome Separation Anxiety.

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